The Beginner’s Guide to Strength Training

Workout Routines | Written by Jon Chambers | Updated on 9 August 2022

Starting out in the world of strength training? There’s some things you need to know right off the bat.

Note: If you are looking for a beginner powerlifting routine, click here. This guide is tailored towards people who are completely new (or almost) to the world of lifting weights.

Getting started can be daunting. There’s information on developing your physique and getting stronger plastered all over the internet. Even worse, a lot of that information is contradictory.

That’s an issue. It’s a problem that leads to months and even years of wasted time as you try to work through and test every concept. It’s not efficient and it often lends itself to people quitting. It’s sad to see. Many times, someone will make the positive decision to begin exercising and working out. Yet, they will base their decisions on bad information, and thus make zero results.

Can you imagine how de-motivating that is? It’s a shame that it ever happens. We’re putting an end to it.

This is the ultimate beginner fitness resource to get you moving in the right direction. We don’t believe in information overload. Instead, are going to give you exactly what you need to know at each stage in your fitness development. With too little information, you make mistakes. With too much, you get bogged down and become inhibited.

Let’s get started.

First you’re going to need to know some basics. Whether you are trying to lose weight, put on muscle, or get stronger, this advice will ring true.

At any given time, you can do several things that will collectively move you closer to your fitness and body composition goals:

  1. Exercise
  2. Nutrition
  3. Supplementation
  4. Physical Therapy
  5. Rest

Those are your variables. This might seem a bit obvious, but you need to realize that all of those items matter. This is probably the biggest mistake that beginners make, and sadly it leads to many people quitting or giving up too soon.

If you exercise as effectively as you possibly could, yet fail to eat the proper food and fill your body with the correct nutrients, I can guarantee you won’t progress efficiently.

Consistency is another thing that needs to be talked about. If you “fall off” for one or two days in the week, you might think it’s not too big of a deal. Wrong. Please don’t make this mistake. Either commit to this lifestyle and reap all of the benefits, or hit the red ‘x’ in the top right of your screen.

This is an all or nothing game. You can’t just get your feet wet. You’ll fail. We promise you that.

Okay, enough of that. You came here for succinct information and that’s exactly what you’re going to get.

Exercises For A Beginner

We’re about to save you from the hordes of people at your local gyms that never make results. Next time you head to the gym, try to look around and get a general feel for what others are doing. More than likely, you’re going to see at least a few people curling and benching, if not half the dang building.

Pause for a second. Look at them. Do you want to look like that? Neither do we. Starting off, you need to pick the correct exercises.

These are the best, most effective exercises you could possibly do as a beginner (arguably in this order):

  1. Squat
  2. Deadlift
  3. Overhead Press
  4. Bench
High Bar Squats With A Barbell

High Bar Squats With A Barbell

Starting out, that’s all you need. Many of you won’t listen to this advice and you’ll try to add in a bunch of other exercises that don’t do much.

We’ll make it easy to understand for you. Let’s say you have one dollar. With that dollar, you can buy any exercise that you want. Beware though: just because every exercise costs the same doesn’t mean they will give you the same results.

Your body isn’t invincible. In the example above, the dollar represents your body’s ability to recover from training. Your body can only recover so fast. As you advance, this will become the biggest issue. It’s why people turn to performance enhancing drugs (we highly suggest you stay far away from that).

Bottom line, get the most for your investment. If you worry about performing the exercises above, you’ll be good to go!

We know what you’re thinking: “but that’s only a few exercises, and I can’t even do them on the same day.”

We hear you. Before we give you some of the second best exercises, we again just want to point out that all you need when starting out is the exercises listed above.

Okay, we know you’re not going to listen, so here’s a good breakdown of some accessory movements you can do (only pick 2-3 for each workout after you perform one of the exercises in the list above):

  • Squat Day
    • Front Squats
    • Stiff-legged Deadlifts
    • Leg Curls
    • Leg Extensions
  • Deadlift Day
    • Pull-ups
    • Barbell Rows
    • Dumbbell Rows
  • Overhead Press Day
    • Dips
    • Lateral Raises
    • Rear Deltoid Raises
    • Front Raises
  • Bench Day
    • Dips
    • Tricep Pull-downs
    • Pushups

At this point you have the exercises, but you don’t know how to structure the workouts. When you’re starting out, don’t go to the gym more than 3-4 days a week. In all honesty, we don’t recommend going 4 days a week, but if you’re serious and “about it” then by all means go for it.

Here’s the template we recommend for you:

Three Days A Week

  1. Monday (week one) = Squat Day
  2. Wednesday (week one) = Overhead Press Day
  3. Friday (week one) = Deadlift Day
  1. Monday (week two) = Squat Day
  2. Wednesday (week two) = Bench Day
  3. Friday (week two) = Deadlift Day

Four Days A Week

  1. Monday = Squat Day
  2. Tuesday = Overhead Press Day
  3. Thursday = Deadlift Day
  4. Friday = Bench Day

As you can see, you’ll cover more ground at a faster pace if you make it to the gym 4 days a week. There is a big drawback to this though, and we’ve seen it several times before:


If you’re starting out, this is the last thing you want to do. So, if you’re getting into things we recommend you take it slow and “turn it up” over time.

That does it for exercises and the actual workout. As you can see, we didn’t hold your hand here. We want to empower you with information and then allow you to “figure out the rest” on your own. Long term, this is going to do you and your body good.

Nutrition and Diet for a Beginner

Get ready for the easiest diet you’ve ever seen. This isn’t about the latest fad or losing 20 pounds in a week (please don’t try this). This is about a new lifestyle.

It’s all about small adjustments. What if you simply replace the two bottles (20 oz.) of mountain dew you drink a day with water? You just cut out 580 completely useless calories. See how easy that way? Don’t make it complicated when it doesn’t have to.

For now, there’s only a few concepts you need to know:

  1. Caloric Surplus vs. Caloric Deficit
  2. Protein Requirements
  3. Using Carbohydrates Effectively
The Rock Enjoying A Cheat Meal

The Rock Enjoying A Cheat Meal

Let’s knock out the first one. Hopefully you at least know what calories are. When it comes to gaining muscle and losing fat, it’s going to come down to a 200-300 calories surplus or deficit.

A calorie surplus is where you eat more calories than your body needs. A calorie deficit is the opposite, where you eat slightly less calories than your body “needs.” Calories are energy. That’s it. Thinking of it that way simplifies things dramatically.

If you use more energy than you consume, that energy has to come from somewhere (muscle/fat). If you consume more energy than you use, that also has to go somewhere (muscle/fat).

As you can see, things just got a little harry. “So you’re telling me I can’t gain muscle and lose fat at the same time?” We’ll be honest here. There’s not conclusive scientific data to support either the confirmation or negation of that question.

What we can tell you though, is that we don’t recommend you try to do both at the same time. You need to focus on one or the other to maximize your results and get to your end goal as fast as possible.

If you’re looking to get lean, focus on that and eat 200-300 less calories than you need. If you’re looking to get jacked, do that instead and make sure to consume a few hundred extra calories.

When you’re starting out you won’t know how many calories your body uses for maintenance, which is basically how much energy your body needs just to function and sustain itself. This number is made up of a lot of components, but we won’t get into that.

What’s important is that you figure out that maintenance number. It’s going to be different for virtually everyone.  How do you do this? Grab a scale and start weighing yourself. You want to either gain or lose 2 pounds a week depending on your specific goal. If you’re trying to get lean, but you’re losing more than that, you need to add more calories. Don’t try to rush this. You’ll regret it. We promise you.

Regarding protein: just make sure to eat one gram for every pound that you weight. For example, if you’re 200 pounds, make sure to eat 200 grams of protein a day. Simple enough.

Carbohydrates are bit more complicated, but not much more. Bottom line: only eat carbs when you need them. If you’re about to go to bed, that last twinkie isn’t going to do you any good. But, if you’re about to have an intense squat workout, it makes sense. Give your body the fuel it needs.

Limiting your carbohydrates will make sure to keep your insulin sensitivity up, which basically just means the carbohydrates will work better when you do use them.

Other than that, just make sure to stay away from all junk carbohydrates (such as the twinkies mentioned above). Rice, pasta, oatmeal, and potatoes are all great sources and should keep you busy for a while.


With So Many Things To Choose From It Can Be Hard To Know Where To Start

With So Many Things To Choose From It Can Be Hard To Know Where To Start

This is another topic that could be talked about for hours, but we’ll keep it simple. Here’s what you need (in this order):

  1. Multivitamin
  2. Protein Powder (makes it easy to meet your protein requirements)
  3. Creatine

That’s it. There are definitely other effective supplements, but this is a beginner’s guide. The three supplements above will be the foundation of any supplementation plan.

That’s it for now on supplements. If you want to learn more, just head over to the supplements section.

Physical Therapy

This word may be intimidating, but it’s just meant to encompass all aspects of taking care of yourself. Training takes a toll on your body. If you constantly work it to the extreme and fail to stretch or undergo mobility drills, you’re going to get injured. If there’s a single thing I could personally impart to you, it would be don’t get injured.

This is a marathon, not a sprint. Spend a little bit of extra time every day stretching. It’s cheap insurance to make sure you don’t end up at snap city (the horrible place you go when you fail to listen to our advice).

For starters, you need to make sure your hip compartment is mobile and flexible.


Last, but definitely not least, is rest. You need good, deep sleep to progress. Contrary to what most people believe, you aren’t building any muscle in the gym.

When you exercise, you are putting stress on your body that leads to it breaking down. It’s the stress response that leads to more thick and lean muscle. As your body works to rebuild itself, it will build a bit stronger than last time.

Getting Quality Rest Is Crucial To Making Progress

Getting Quality Rest Is Crucial To Making Progress

This is the cycle of growth that fitness is all about. Making sure to get the proper amount of quality sleep at night will keep your body growing and allow it to recover efficiently.

Along with physical therapy, this is a huge component to long-term progress.


At this point you’re definitely not an expert on fitness (or anywhere close). However, you are informed enough to start making great and substantial results towards the body you want.

As you can tell, this is a process. The more you do it, the better you’ll get. Don’t forget to check out all of the other amazing resources like the Ivysaur 4-4-8 program to continue learning as you become a complete beast.

About the Author

Squatting 500 pounds on an ohio rogue bar with a sports hernia

Jon Chambers

Jon Chambers is a powerlifter, strength coach, sports hernia expert, and writer involved in the strength training community for almost a decade on a mission to create the best strength and fitness guides on the web.